Despite spending a chunk of his time in the Red Bull Renault garage, Sebastian Vettel stormed to the top of the speed chart for the second time today. Vettel who is aiming to clinch his third-consecutive FIA Formula One championship had a best lap time on the new Circuit of The Americas at 1m37.718s; nearly one-tenth of a second over his teammate Mark Webber. The German only turned 17 laps compared to Webber’s 36.
“We had a bit of a problem this afternoon and so couldn’t run as much as we wanted, but we got two good runs which is important for tomorrow and Sunday,” said the points leader. “I think there were a couple of surprises today in terms of pace, so we’ll see tomorrow.”
“It's a pretty good track, it's quick, especially the first sector which is quite full on,” said Webber. “As with all new circuits, you've got to work out where you can prioritize your time and where to compromise. It's got a bit of everything really, so it’s good.”
Main rival for the title, Fernando Alonso was third to close out Friday’s first day on track for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. The Spaniard’s best was a 1m38.483s.
“It’s no surprise to see the two Red Bulls ahead of the field: in the last few races they have had the best package, therefore today’s result is logical. We know what are our strengths - team work and reliability - and we will make the most of them in the fight,” said the Spaniard who currently is 10 points behind Vettel in the championship battle.
Lewis Hamilton placed fourth with a 1m38.748s just ahead of his McLaren Mercedes teammate Jenson Button.
Hamilton was very positive after both practices and said, “This is a great drivers’ track – it’s very tough to pull together three perfect sectors. Personally, I find the final two sectors easier than the first; those high-speed changes of direction need a good set-up, and balancing that requirement against the demands of the slow-speed stuff is tricky.”
It’s quicker than Becketts at Silverstone.
Button commented: “Turn One to Turn Nine is a brilliant and free-flowing section – particularly if the car is working well. Turn One is a strange corner though – with a very wide entry rather like Turn Three in India. Turn Three here – the start of the esses – is fantastic though. It’s quicker than Becketts at Silverstone. It’s very unsual to find a section of corners like this on a modern Formula 1 track. I love it."
Felipe Massa had his Ferrari sixth fastest followed by Mercedes’ driver Nico Rosberg, and Bruno Senna for the Williams team.
“Today was given over above all to getting to know this new track: we did a lot of laps, mainly with this in mind. In the morning, the track was dirty and very slippery: I can’t remember ever driving on a surface that offered so little grip!” Massa said.
Rosberg was pleased with their first day but did remark on the cold air and how the “tyres were really on the edge” due to the temperatures. "I like the new track here at the Circuit of the Americas very much and they have done a great job with the layout,” he said.
Senna offered his view point: “The track is really challenging so it was great to gets lots of running in today. It’s very fast and flowing, and also a bit slippery at the moment but the grip is coming. It was a tough session as there is a lot to get used to with the car and the tyres.”
“The high-speed corners of the new circuit are very enjoyable, I really like driving here. The first session was about getting familiar with the track and waiting for the tarmac to improve for a better grip level,” said Kobayashi.
Schumacher is running his penultimate race before he retires. He and his wife purchased a ranch in the local area as they own horses and ride a lot back home; this one gives him plenty of opportunities to return of the States. He said, "I have to say it is nice being back in the US, and I hope that the fans appreciate Formula One being back too.”
The seven times champion added, “Yesterday I went out to explore the track on a scooter, and it was very different from today when the low seating position of our cars compromises your vision a lot. But then, it takes just a bit of time to understand what you have to do and where the biggest challenges are. The track is still very green, especially offline, but it delivers lots of potential for a good show.”
Drama ended the final practice after the checkered flag was waved to end Practice 2. Smoke puffs were seen by the corner marshalls on the rear of Pastor Maldonado’s Williams Renault in Turn 19; the called was immediately made to alert race control. While he was slowing down, a small fire was seen and Maldonado was told to completely shut down his car. Just one minute later, the team was pushing the car to their garage. Chief Operations Engineer Mark Gillan explained, “On Pastor's last run we had to stop the car with an engine air leak.”
Most of the day was spent by the drivers getting acclimatization to the new venue. On the first day of practice for all grand prix events, the teams and their drivers use the day to test the Pirelli tyres and evaluate their set-ups. Friday is the also the day for practicing the standing starts and pit stops. For Ferrari, Alonso did the usual Friday long run with a full fuel load; other teams did the same with either both drivers or just one. The weather is colder than expected so that also has been taken into consideration before the final practice in the morning on Saturday.
Qualifying takes center stage in the Cowboys state at high noon local time.